Human Nature

Double Vision

Differentiating your eyes through surgery.

(For discussions of the latest topics, check out the Human Nature Fray.)

Sales of the Plan B morning-after pill have doubled in less than a year. Reasons: 1) It’s a lot easier to get since the FDA approved it for purchase over the counter. 2) Public education. 3) Free advertising thanks to opponents’ failed efforts to block it. Old conservative spin: It’ll harm women. Old feminist spin: Right-wing pharmacists are preventing women from getting it. Reality: Women are getting it, and there’s no sign of harm. (For Human Nature’s takes on Plan B and pregnancy prevention, click here and here. To post your views on post-coital contraception, click here.)

The FDA approved laser surgery to differentiate a patient’s eyes for alternate viewing distances. The procedure is “designed for treating one eye to see far away objects and the other eye for close-up vision.” Old solution: Distance glasses for seeing far away; reading glasses for seeing close up. Current solution: Lasik for seeing far away; reading glasses for seeing close up. New solution: Each eye surgically customized so you switch eyes instead of putting on glasses. FDA’s warning: “Following monovision surgery, the two eyes may not work together as well as they did before.” (For Human Nature’s take on laser eye surgery as athletic enhancement, click here. To discuss the cyborgization of human eyesight, click here.)

Astronomers reported the first strong evidence of water on a planet beyond our solar system. The bad news: The planet is a gas giant with temperatures up to 3,600 degrees. The good news: 1) It shows water can be found even on inhospitable planets. 2) As detection methods improve, it will become possible to search smaller, more Earthlike planets for water. (For previous updates on the hunt for habitable planets, click here and here.)

A company will seek foreign approval to sell the first drug for premature ejaculation. The FDA rejected the drug two years ago, apparently because 1) it has side effects (nausea and “momentary loss of consciousness”) and 2) “regulators questioned whether helping men last longer during sex was a clear medical benefit.” Arguments for approving the drug and covering it under health insurance: 1) Premature ejaculation “can cause emotional distress for men and their partners.” 2) Viagra has already reframed sexual problems “as a disease in need of treatment.” 3) If we don’t pay for drugs targeted at premature ejaculation, men will keep using more potent antidepressants for the same purpose. (WSJ link requires subscription.) (For previous updates on Viagra, click here and here. For the latest court ruling that employer-provided health insurance doesn’t have to cover birth control, click here. To discuss whether insurers should cover birth control, Viagra, and premature-ejaculation drugs, click here.)

Bush’s former surgeon general detailed administration officials’ efforts to politicize science. His testimony: 1) They wouldn’t let him talk about sex education, emergency contraception, or mental health. 2) They stalled and tried to dilute a report on passive smoke. 3) They dismissed global warming as a liberal issue. 4) They’re stalling a report on prison health care because they don’t want to spend more money on that problem. 5) Information on stem cells “was removed from my speeches.” Bonus report: Another former surgeon general testified that 1) the Clinton administration tried to dissuade him from reporting the effectiveness of needle-exchange programs and 2) concerns about the Lewinsky scandal prevented him from issuing a report on sexual health. White House rebuttal: If the surgeon general fails to tell the truth despite political pressure from other officials, that’s his fault. (To debate presidential distortion of science, click here.)

South Korea is contracting with a lab to clone drug-sniffing dogs. This is the same lab that fraudulently claimed to have made stem cells from cloned human embryos; however, the perpetrator has been expelled, and investigators have verified that the lab has already cloned a dog. The lab is starting with drug- and bomb-sniffing dogs because that’s what governments are willing to pay for. It has “already obtained somatic cells from drug-sniffing dogs to start cloning them in July or August.” The lab also plans to clone guide dogs and possibly pets. Estimated current cost to clone your pet dog: $50,000 to $100,000. (For Human Nature’s take on cloning animals, click here. Would you pay to clone your pet? Would you ban it? Post comments here.)

The more you’ve smoked, the less likely you are to get Parkinson’s, according to pooled data from 11 studies. Findings: 1) People who quit 25 years prior to diagnosis were 13 percent less likely than nonsmokers to get Parkinson’s; those who continued to smoke were 32 percent less likely. 2) “Men who smoked pipes or cigars had a 54 percent lower risk.” 3) Tobacco chewers also showed “a suggestion of reduced risk.” Theories: 1) Smoking-related chemicals such as “nicotine or carbon monoxide exert a protective effect.” 2) “A premorbid personality influences smoking behavior among those who later develop Parkinson’s disease.” Unwarranted conclusions: 1) Smoke, it’s good for you. 2) Stop persecuting smokers; the incipient Parkinson’s is making them do it.

A study confirms that muscles attract women. Sample: 240 college students. Results: 1) “Women rate muscular men as sexier, more physically dominant and volatile, and less committed to their mates than nonmuscular men.” 2) “Women indicate that their most recent short-term sex partners were more muscular than their other sex partners.” 3) “Muscular men … report more lifetime sex partners … and more affairs with mated women.” (“Muscular men were twice as likely to have had more than three sex partners than less-built types.”) 4) “Men with moderate muscularity are rated most attractive.” Theories: 1) Muscles “are cues of genes that increase offspring viability or reproductive success.” However, 2) Too much muscle “makes women more suspicious about [men’s] romantic intentions,” so women prefer less hulky guys as mates. (To debate muscles and defend the honor of nerds, click here.)

A National Academy of Sciences report suggests we may be overlooking extraterrestrial life. Current search method: We look for signs of water and carbon, which life on Earth requires. New idea: Discoveries of unconventional life deep in the earth suggest life on other planets may defy our expectations. Examples: 1) Instead of water, it may rely on methane or ammonia. 2) Instead of phosphorus-based DNA, it may replicate itself using an arsenic molecule. 3) Instead of carbon, it may be based on silicon. Proposed list of places where we may have missed such “weird life”: 1) Moons of Saturn. 2) Venus. 3) Earth. (For Human Nature’s take on life on a moon of Saturn, click here.)

Nearly 2,000 officials have been caught violating China’s one-child policy from 2000 to 2005. The list includes 21 lawmakers, 24 political advisers, 6 “senior intellectuals,” and more than 100 entrepreneurs. “Rising incomes mean some newly rich can afford to break the rules and pay resulting fines.” Some of the newly exposed violators were “found to have kept mistresses,” leading to extra children. American offense: taking a mistress. Chinese offense: having a baby with your mistress. (To discuss China’s one-child policy, click here.)

Latest Human Nature columns: 1) The case for turning food into fuel. 2) Recombining  man and beast. 3) The spread of virgin births. 4) Abolishing  menstruation. 5) The chess match of man and machine. 6)  Ultrasound and the future of abortion. 7) The global market in human organs. 8) The evolution of brains and morals. 9) Machines that read your mind. 10) Invasion of the naked body scanners.